Did 2007 Success Derail the Arizona D'Backs?
The 2007 season was truly magical for me as a baseball fan. For me, it rivaled 2001. Obviously it was very different, but still magical.
It is well known that the Diamondbacks were a statistical anomaly. They allowed more runs than they scored. They were an absurd 32-20 in one run games. They had the lowest team batting average (.250) in the National League. Outside of Brandon Webb, no starter on the staff had an ERA under 4.25.
Ninety wins, a division champion team, and a playoff sweep of the Chicago Cubs. This was a very successful season. Unfortunately, it was the success in 2007 and then the 20-8 start to the 2008 season that led to where the team now finds itself.
How is this?
Well, how I recall it, when Josh Byrnes was hired as general manager in 2005, there was an organizational plan. The plan was to develop minor league talent and then rely on that talent to contribute at the major league level. There would be strict salary budgeting, so to live through the debt left from the championship team. There would be no big splashes in free agency, and there was the expectation that success was a long term goal. Improvement each year was the goal, but to win the division was probably 3-4 years away.
The 2007 season and 2008 start of the season changed some plans. Decisions were made to try and return to the postseason. It turns out that the success that I viewed as magical was as much as an anomaly as the statistics were. It was fool's gold, a fluke.
First was the trade for Dan Haren. Now, I don't question this move because it has worked out well for the most part.
However, it cost the team Carlos Quentin (the player, Chris Carter, who came to Arizona from the White Sox for Quentin, was in the deal), Carlos Gonzalez (the prize prospect who now is playing very well in the majors), Brett Anderson (11-11 last season and 2-1 this season with 1.88 ERA), Dana Eveland (who is in the majors, but has not been much), Greg Smith (also pitching in the majors, albeit only OK), and Aaron Cunningham (no real major league impact yet).
The bullpen, which was so brilliant in the 2007 season, was overhauled. Jose Valverde was traded for Chad Qualls, Juan Gutierrez, and Chris Burke.
This was a calculated risk that I agreed with in part. Valverde was volatile and was looking for a big payday.
Historically, closers come and go. The sell high principle was the plan. Too bad that Chris Burke was the worst player ever to put on a Diamondback uniform, neither Brandon Lyon nor Chad Qualls have been solid closers, and Juan Gutierrez is Tony Peña reincarnated (dynamite and unhittable at the start, then an erratic gas can).
In hindsight, it seems that keeping the team's strength together would have been a better plan, especially since the past two seasons have shown the bullpen to be the fatal flaw in the team.
Then were three ill-fated trades in the 2008 season, intended to bolster the bullpen and add needed power to the lineup so that they could win the division. Jon Rauch (Jon "Ouch") was acquired for Emilio Bonifacio (who was slated to be the replacement for Orlando Hudson at second base) and Adam Dunn for Micah Owings.
Trying to recreate the bench magic from the previous year, the team traded Scott Hairston for Tony Clark. Hairston, while not spectacular, has been a contributor in San Diego.
To make matters worse, after obtaining Dunn before he was to become a free agent, the plan was to get back compensatory draft picks when he signed elsewhere, but then the team did not offer him arbitration, thus losing the picks.
Rauch turned out to be a disaster and was traded at the end of 2009 season, netting pitcher Kevin Mulvey, who has done nothing with the team so far.
Tony Peña, the seventh-inning lock in 2007, was traded for first baseman Brandon Allen, who has not shown he can hit big league pitching.
This past offseason brought reliever Aaron Heilman for prospect Scott Maine.
Now I understand that sometimes you have to trade prospects because you can never count on them all to be solid major league players.
The issue I am seeing now is that management got caught up in trying to recreate something that was simply a fluke.
They should have seen that, after April 2008, the team was simply showing its true colors. Instead of bailing on the long term plan to try and win in 2008, had they stayed the course, the past two years would not have been so miserable. Perhaps they would not have been great, but they should have been improving.
Now it appears that we will be starting over again, which is always a painful process.
At the very least, I can only imagine that we would not be experiencing the disaster that is the 2010 season. It has gotten to the point that I will start watching games for the comedic value—how will they lose next? It's time for a new plan, and it stinks.
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